Ever wonder what software you need to create a Virtual Tour? In this post, I’ll tell you about all the programs that you can use to get started!
I will start off by giving an overview of the steps involved in my post-production workflow, from importing the images to getting the virtual tours online, and then I’ll discuss the software that can be used to accomplish these tasks.
Our post-production workflow generally goes something like this:
- Importing the images onto our computer.
- Preparing the images for the creation of our 360° panorama.
- Creating the panoramic image.
- Retouching the panoramic image.
- Turning the panoramic image into a virtual tour.
- Getting the virtual tour online.
Steps 1 and 2: Importing the images and preparing them for the panorama
Ok, we’ve taken our pictures and we’re at our computer with a memory card full of images. What now? The easy answer is just to stick the memory card into the computer and dump the files somewhere in the nether reaches of our hard drive. And while this is a fast and dirty way to do it, this method will come back to bite us before too long. We’ll have a ton of files to keep track of, and we’ll have to make adjustments to many of them. So while we can do it the dirty way, I highly recommend getting an image-management software to help keep things organized and to speed things along when we need to make changes to a group of images.
For steps one and two of our post-production workflow, importing images onto our computer and preparing images for the creation of our 360° panorama, we can use the following programs:
- Adobe Photoshop Lightroom – US$119 – Mac & Windows – Used by about 40% of Professional Photographers, Lightroom “helpsyou bring out the best in yourphotographs, whether you’re perfecting one image, searching for ten, processing hundreds, or organizing thousands.” It’s incredibly useful for virtual tour providers because it makes it easy to find photos from a specific job, fix issues with white balance/exposure/etc., and export them to the size we need. I could not live without Lightroom
- Photomatix Pro – US$99 – Mac & Windows – If you are doing any HDR processing, Photomatix is hands-down the best out there. The ability to run batches greatly speeds up the workflow, and the HDR look can be tweaked to your hearts’ desire. Photoshop CS4 and later can also create HDRs, but the simplicity of the Photomatix interface makes it worth every penny.
Step 3: Creating the panoramic image
We’ve imported our photos, tweaked them to get the exposure and color right, and if we’re really going all-out, run an HDR batch. The next step will be to turn those images into a panorama that will become what is seen in the virtual tour.
There are a ton of programs out there that can stitch images into panoramas, but after using most of them, I can confidently say that PTGUI is the best out there.
Here’s an overview of your options for panorama software:
- AutoPano – 99 € – Mac & Windows – AutoPano is a well-established program that allows you to create panoramas very easily. I love the batch stitching feature – just toss your photos in the program and let AutoPano do its magic.
- PTGui – (Price varies depending on license) US$92 – Mac & Windows – PTGUI is the best panoramic stitching software out there. The options for customizing your panorama are endless, and the user interface becomes familiar very quickly. PTGUI does a great job of fixing problems that other software can’t handle. You can easily mask out your tripod so your viewers feel like they’re floating. Their support is great. Overall, I highly recommend PTGUI.
- Hugin – Free! – Mac, Windows & Linux – Hugin is a free program developed using the PT Tools framework, so it has the same backbone as PTGUI. The program works great once you figure it all out. As with most free software, the documentation and support is not its shining point. However, if you don’t want to fork over the money for one of the other options, Hugin’s a great choice.
Step 4: Retouching the image
Once we’ve got our panorama, it’s time to make the magic happen. Retouching the image is entirely optional, but if you want to make your Virtual Tours really shine, you will need to retouch them. My retouching generally consists of getting rid of brown patches of grass, making the sky blue, fixing the exposure in dark and bright areas, etc. It truly makes a difference, and your clients will love you for putting work into making their place look beautiful. Here is the software you can use to do this:
- Adobe Photoshop – US$10/month – Mac & Windows – As I mentioned earlier, Photoshop is the most powerful photo editing software in the world, and as a photographer and Virtual Tour provider, I could not live without it. Knowing how to use Photoshop is a great skill that will help you tremendously improve the quality of your tours. In addition to retouching the panorama, you can also design your logo and custom Virtual Tour interface with it.
- Photoshop Elements – US$60 – Mac & Windows – If you’re only looking to retouch your panoramas and aren’t in need of Photoshop’s endless feature list, Elements is a great option that won’t break the bank.
- GIMP – Free! – Mac, Windows & Linux – GIMP is a community-developed image manipulation program that is completely free. I have never personally used it, but I have seen some outstanding work done in GIMP, so if your budget’s tight, definitely check it out.
Step 5: Turning the Panoramic Image into a Virtual Tour
We’ve got our beautified panorama(s) ready, so now we need to take those images and create the Flash or Quicktime Virtual Tour that will be seen by millions! (Ok, maybe not millions, but uhhh…thousands?) There are a few good options for creating the actual Virtual Tours, but as you’ll see, one really stands out.
- Panotour – €99 (Standard) €399 (Pro) – Mac, Windows & Linux – Kolor’s Panotour Pro is Virtual Tour software that stands head and shoulders above other programs in terms of ease of use and customization options. Simply drag and drop your panoramas, connect the hotspots visually, use pre-installed plugins to create an interface, and you’re good to go. You can embed your tours into a webpage, or you can create a stand-alone HTML page that will get your tours online very easily. I shouldn’t even bother mentioning the rest, it’s that good.
- Pano2VR – €99 (Standard) €299 (Pro) – Mac, Windows & Linux – Pano2VR is similar to Panotour, but is more challenging to use because the interface takes quite a bit of learning to use. I used this software for years but recently ditched it in favor of Panotour, because dealing with the skins was too much hassle.
- JATC – Free! – Windows – A free tool for helping you create Virtual Tours from panoramas. I have not used it, but if you’re bold and broke, go for it!
Step 6: Getting your Virtual Tour online
After producing the Virtual Tour, we’ll need to get it out into the world. I have a wordpress website that I host on Bluehost. Using the Pano2VR wordpress plugin, I’m able to get my tours online pretty easily. The alternative would be to use Panotour to output your Virtual Tour as an HTML 5 webpage, and upload that directly onto your server.
Confused Yet? The Virtual Tour Software I Use
I know it seems impossible to sort through the massive pile of software and figure out what you should be using to create Virtual Tours, but hopefully it’s a bit clearer now. After experimenting with my workflow, I’ve found that the following is a great combination that meets all my software needs:
A Note on Learning to Use Virtual Tour Software
The software that I’ve talked about here is all very powerful, but with this power comes a bit of a learning curve. Throughout this blog, you will find tutorials that may require a basic knowledge of the software that I use. If you’re just learning how to use Photoshop, I can’t recommend PHLEARN enough, I’ve learned almost everything I know about Photoshop from their free and Pro tutorials. Panotour has a great set of tutorials on their website.